Bike Trips

A few weeks ago I watched the Ken Burns documentary "The Vietnam War". It was extremely good. I lived through this period of history, but was too young, thankfully, to go to war. I learned a lot that I didn't know because I was too young in the sixties to understand. I knew that our next-door neighbor was a prisoner of war but as they didn't have any children my age, it as somewhat academic to me. I just didn't know what that meant. I enjoy history, as I've probably said here before, because we often can't have any idea where we're going unless we understand where we came from. Or what came before us. I would recommend everyone to watch it. Yes, it's brutal. Yes, it can make you angry with the utter waste of war, lies from our government, and the reactions of our country's citizens. But ignoring mistakes is the first step to repeating them.

They interviewed many people in government, in the military, and general citizens effected in different ways. It's interesting to see their viewpoints now, decades later, to see how they've grown and gained wisdom from the folly of youth. One such person is Karl Marlantes. He appears throughout the series and for me was especially intriguing. He was a Marine Second Lieutenant during the war and had on-point opinions having been there in the thick of things. I noticed that at the end credits he was listed as being an author so I looked him up. He wrote two books: a novel called "Matterhorn" based on his combat experiences, and "What It Is Like To Go To War", a non-fiction book that coalesces what he has learned about war and the human beings that participate. Like the documentary, I highly recommend both.

I read the novel first. It was a brutal, no-holds-barred story of a young officer near the DMZ in some of the most frightening combat situations. For me it is the best book I've read to give me an inkling of what it was like to be there. I'm still reading his other book. As I read it I realize just how many of his experiences are in the novel. He's really describing himself - his own actions - with names and locations slightly changed to allow a certain distance to the story and also (probably) to allow some anonymity for his fellow veterans. A young reserve Marine Second Lieutenant I know told me that the non-fiction book is required reading for officers. And no wonder. Listen to some of the chapter titles: Killing, Guilt, Numbness & Violence, The Enemy Within, Lying, Loyalty. And there's more. But what makes this book so good is that Marlantes does not shy away from his failures in making a point and using what happened to him as examples. It gives me a new appreciation for what we're asking of our young men and women who join the armed forces. Why they become different. Why we'll never truly be able to understand. That doesn't mean we don't try, but we have to give up on our stupid reaction by giving them meaningless platitudes. As I saw in a recent article this past Veterans Day, "Thank you for your service" or "Thank you for killing for me." Let's understand what happens to our warriors.

Anyways, the other thing I find very interesting about the book is that his conclusions and statements echo not just to the current and future veterans, but to us civilians as well. What is incredibly pointed and relevant is his term "pseudospeciation" which he describes as a "dissociation of one's enemy from humanity". "You make a false species out of the other human and therefore make it easier to kill him." Now he's talking about war, but we do it every day in our culture. We see it in the news by politicians, celebrities, and on all forms of social media. We use a name, usually pejorative, to describe the other side - you know, those who you don't agree with. They're not human beings, their fascists, libtards, neo-cons, progressives, etc ad nauseum. We take their humanity away and reduce them to a one-dimensional thing. So we can hate them and feel good about ourselves. Though I'm sure Karl Marlantes didn't intend this, I find his conclusions and opinions echo what I read in the Bible. We, humanity, are all the same. No better or worse than another in God's eyes. His point of view trumps our picayune view of ourselves.

Being the cynic that I am, I don't believe our country has enough maturity and wisdom to walk back from the brink that we seem to be headed toward (whatever that may be). But I think God is calling us to step up and be better than we are. Those of us who count Christ as our Savior should be recognizing the humanity of those who oppose us. As Obi-wan says "don't give in to hate" - I know, not exactly biblical, but God's word does tell us to love our enemies. So I'm not going to participate in that kind of tearing down of other people just because I disagree with them. Yelling at them and calling them names is not going to convince them of anything other than I'm being an idiot. Maybe I'll give God's way a chance.

Perhaps you could too?

Category: commentary
Stop yelling and start listening

I'm a conservative guy. I think you should stay out of debt as much as possible, save for the future, and take care of your family. I believe that government should work for people, not the other way around. I believe in a small government that helps people, but doesn't become their permanent provider. I think capitalism, even with its darker aspects, is still the best economic system there is. I'm against euthanasia and the killing of unborn children. I believe that the right to free speech and the right to own and bear arms can coexist. I could go on, but you probably get my point.

But I also believe that my way of thinking is not the only way. Other ideas, even those I vehemently disagree with, must be allowed the light of day. I believe that the person who espouses those opinions has equal worth as myself. That means that someone who describes themselves as "liberal" or "progressive" has opinions no better or worse than my own. So I read opinions from conservatives and liberals alike. For me to shut out any thoughts that do not reinforce my own opinions would limit my ability to think and have ideas.

Ideas. They are what make life interesting. We would be a horribly backward world if humanity chose to stifle ideas. Yet that is what seems to be desired today by the constantly raging personalities found on the internet, in politics, in the media, in Hollywood, and on university campuses. Where did the rational people go? Why are today's arguments binary (only two sides, nothing in between)? I know (hope!) it's not true, but I sometimes feel I'm in this very small minority that believe that reasonable, calm discussion is the way to resolve conflict. I know I'm not the only one because I find articles written on both sides of the political aisle that call for a return to sanity. The cynic in me says that it's way too late for that. The other part of me hopes the cynic is wrong.

But it's hard to have optimism when I see people I call friends engaging in the same acidic behavior. Name-calling like they were still on the playground in elementary school. Extending themselves farther and farther to the right, seemingly holding no compassion for others. Unwilling to listen to any opinion that doesn't echo their own. Feeling that compromise is a dirty word, even though that's what our country was built upon. My wife and I have raised our children to think for themselves, to be kind to others, to have compassion. I'm proud of them because they ask questions and don't take what they read at face value. I wish some of my friends did. In the early days of the internet and email I was constantly shooting down chain emails, urban myths, and just plain silliness that people would forward to me. I'd send links to sites debunking these types of things and hope that they'd get the point and start thinking first before believing them and pressing "forward."

Thinking first and talking second. What a concept. I know I've been guilty of reversing that sequence. I've put my foot in my mouth often enough that it's a perfect fit now. I'd like to think that at nearly 60 I'm getting better at not doing that. But it sure runs counter to our society. Tweet that thought first before anything else! Get it on Facebook so you can tell that so-and-so the truth! Everyone is yelling so loud it's hard to hear your own thoughts.

The thing that drives me through all of this is theology. Yep, I'm going to talk about religion. On the other hand, maybe I'm not. Not really. I am a Christian. I believe that God sent his son Jesus to live as a human being and die on a cross, holding at that instant of time, all the sin that has existed and would exist. I believe that having paid my price, he died and rose again, defeating death and showing the way for us, God's children. And everyone is eligible if they simply accept him as their savior. Jesus' life, the Bible, His teachings - it all tells me that to believe myself as better than another, that I have inherent worth more than the next person, is sin. It teaches me to love others, to accept others, yes to condemn sin, but that people have worth. If I can't do that most basic of things and have compassion when God had compassion on me, where does that leave me? If I believe the Bible, if I accept that the words of Jesus in the Bible are right and that I must follow them, then it either affects the way I live my life and treat others, or I am simply another hypocritical church-goer. I may not be very good at it, but I'm trying to not be that social-club-church-attender and actually live what I believe.

So what can be done about this raging society that we find ourselves in? I really don't want to listen to the cynic in me, so I'm going to ignore him. I will do what I can to encourage others to think, to care for people especially those whom they disagree with. I can ask my friend "do you really believe that person is truly evil? I mean working-for-Satan evil." Because if not, then why treat them as such? I can find people writing articles challenging to my conservative nature and ask myself "have I thought of this? Do they have a good point?" I can find authors that question conservative and liberal points of view and encourage others to expand their thinking. To remember that if we as a country stop having ideas, we die.

The post I uploaded a couple weeks ago reminded me of other opinion articles that I've read over the past month or so that I enjoyed because they either spoke with maturity about toning down the rhetoric and having an adult discussion, or challenged me to see the other side and consider how to meet in the middle. I've put links to them below. Maybe no one will read any of these. But if even one does and expands their horizons a bit, all these words will not have been in vain.

I'm still a Republican, but my party needs to be fumigated.

Don't Hold Your Breath on 'Reckoning' for Bill Clinton

Can veterans rescue Congress from its partisan paralysis?

Charles Krauthammer - The guardrails hold

Leonard Pitts, Jr. - Clearly, 42 percent of Republicans are out of their damn minds

Kathleen Parker - Seeking gun sanity after Parkland

Category: commentary
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Tom Clark
I'm Chief Technical Overlord for Behind The Gavel, living in Spokane, Washington. I also do a little development work on the side. And I love riding my bikes all over the country with my friends.

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